Lake Tahoe trail safety |

Lake Tahoe trail safety

Jason Shueh
Nevada Appeal News Service
Photo by Paul Raymore

When you say trail safety, images come to mind, namely hefty white helmets. It’s a topic that cultivates a yawn from seasoned yeah-yeah-I-know-all-that-stuff riders and usually gets plugged by handfuls of yesteryear brochures.

Yet having trail safety savvy can be the difference between raising a glass over a post-ride burrito with friends or making that emergency-room call.

Just ask Stewart Thompson, trail aficionado and sales associate at Olympic Bikes in Tahoe City. A Tahoe local, Thompson has grown up in the basin, hopping and hucking Tahoe’s tapestry of singletrack for years.

In Tahoe, Thompson said trail safety is more than simply wearing bike body armor or learning how to stay upright on a polished bike.

“Here it’s important to ride on open trail only,” Thompson said.

He stressed knowing what trails to ride on – carrying a map – is crucial for trail safety and mountain bike trail advocacy. It’s a way to keep riders and non-riders safe in a region where trail access is always an issue Thompson said.

He spotlighted the 160-mile Tahoe Rim Trail as a perfect example, Thompson said. Riding days in certain sections, such as Tahoe Meadows to Tunnel Creek Road, are divided between mountain bikers on even days and hikers and equestrians on odd days.

Tahoe terrain, he pointed out, is another distinguishing factor for the Tahoe weekend warrior to consider.

“It’s pretty rocky here. We have lots of granite boulders you can fall on and tons of ‘moon dust’ that gets on everything,” Thompson said, referring to Tahoe’s swath of brown powder.

“Be aware that the elevation is hard to get used to as well. A lot of people go out and don’t realize how high they are.”

Thompson said before going out on an epic trek, riders need to ride within their limit, carry extra water for the elevation and inspect bikes – especially for loose wheel skewers and spotty breaks.

More than this Thompson said it’s all about enjoying the trails, vistas, and rollicking wealth of mountains. This, and perhaps, one savory post-ride burrito.


Mountain bike trails

Tahoe Rim Trail

Type: Cross country

Length: 165 miles (mountain biking portion 80 plus)

Difficulty: Moderate-advanced

Trail head: To get to the Tahoe City north entrance of the trail, turn off Highway 89 onto Fairway Drive and head .2 miles West of Highway 28. Trail begins near the roadside and lot parking by community center.

Nearest city: Tahoe City

Description: With scenic vistas, mountain passes and more than 80 miles of mountain bike singletrack, the Tahoe Rim Trail is by the far the signature trail of Tahoe. However, only a little more than 50 percent of this California/Nevada traversing trail is only open to mountain bikes. For a complete listing of trail heads and where mountain bikes can ride, check the Tahoe Rim Trail Association website at

Hole in the Ground

Trail Type: Cross country

Length: 9 miles

Difficulty: Advanced

Trail head: Take Boreal Ridge Road/Castle Peak exit off Highway 80 and turn right onto Castle Valley Road. Park at the end of the pavement and then ride your bike 1.5 miles to the trail head which will be on your left.

Description: This trail is a mix of alpine views and steep technical terrain. There aren’t many bailout options on this trail so extra water and energy bars are a good bet.

Live Wire

Trail Type: Downhill

Length: 1.8 miles

Difficulty: Advanced

Trail head: North Star at Tahoe

Nearest city: Truckee, Calif.

Description: Northstar’s mountain bike park is unlike any in the nation as it is host to some of the best downhill mountain bike trails in the country. Live Wire is the resort’s flagship trail. Some of its features includes tabletops, doubles, berms, and most notably, a fully irrigated trail system to prevent dust.

Downieville Downhill

Trail type: Downhill

Length: 17 miles

Difficulty: Advanced

Trail head: Packer Saddle is the official starting point. To get there, your best bet is to take a shuttle from one of the shuttle services in town such as Yuba Expeditions (

Nearest City: Downieville, Calif.

Description: Not a Tahoe trail, but one that’s so close and so nationally known it’s worth the drive.

This trail brings thousands to its rocky and rooty slopes each year. Riders should prepare themselves for to drop 4,200 feet in a rip roaring 14 miles.

Flume Trail

Type: Cross country

Length: 22 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Head: Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, Spooner Lake day use area

Nearest City: Incline Village, Nev.

Description: For those adventurous riders looking a trail that’s truly Tahoe, the Flume trail; – apart from the Tahoe Rim Trail – is one of the most touted trails in the region for its lake gazing views and its wealth of snaking trail. Riders enjoy cliff side panoramas as they skirt this cherished Tahoe trade mark.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Trail Type: All Mountain

Length: 20 miles

Difficulty: Advanced

Trail Head: The trail is located at the Big Meadow parking area off of Highway 89 and Luther Pass in South Lake Tahoe.

Nearest City: South Lake Tahoe

Description: A Tahoe technical feast with over 3,200 feet of climbing across 20 miles of terrain. This “wild ride” was give its name from the smatterings of boulder fields and roots embedded in the trail.

Tahoe City Cross Country Center

Trail Type: Cross country

Length: More 40 miles

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Trail Head: Heading away from Tahoe City northeast on Highway 28, turn left on Fabian Way and then take the next right onto Village Road. Follow Village Road and make one final left onto Country Club drive to see the parking area on your left.

Nearest City: Tahoe City, Calif.

Description: A great trail for novices to bite into or for the hardened cross-country riders to hone speed skills. These collections trail offer a variety of terrain and singletrack and are great way to play in the dirt while still having easy access to Tahoe City’s downtown amenities.

Emigrant Trail

Trail Type: Cross country

Length: 15 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Location: From Truckee get on State Route 89 North. Head about 4.5 miles to the U.S. Forest Service facility called Donner Camp picnic area that will be on the right side of the road.

Description: This is an easy trail and one where the snow most likely to be absent in the spring. Here. riders will enjoy views of sagebrush and meadows as they dart through a canopy of Jeffrey Pine.

Power Line Loop Trail

Type: Cross country

Length: 15 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Head: Spooner Lake Nevada State Park

Nearest City: South Lake Tahoe

Description: Tracing the edges of Lake Tahoe’s southern shore this ride unveils scenic back drops over a narrow carpet terra firma. The trail is entirely singletrack unless you wish to connect back on the paved Pioneer Trail.

Angora Ridge Trail

Trail Type: Cross country

Length: 10 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Head: Beginning in South Lake Tahoe take Highway 89 north to Fallen Leaf Lake Road, turn left onto Tahoe Mountain Road, turn left again and head uphill until you reach Angora Ridge Road.

Nearest City: South Lake Tahoe

Description: More singletrack is on the menu with this favored south shore run. Typical of Tahoe trails, the Angora Ridge trail shows off yet another impressive display of scenery starting from its trail head on Fallen Leaf Lake Road. Views include Mount Tallac, Fallen Leaf Lake and the Truckee River Basin.